The Ultimate Antispam Tactic

I remember my first feelings about spam back around 1995 when two or three unsolicited emails per week popped into my Inbox. The messages intrigued me because they were clearly addressed to me, yet I didn't know the sender! "Wow," I thought. "Someone I've never met has taken the time to include me in his mailing list. How cool!"

Back in the good ol' days, spam was clean.
If you closed your eyes and concentrated, you could imagine the sender being a decent person. Primitive spam didn't use deceptive subject lines or gigantic text blinking on obnoxious, fluorescent backgrounds. In fact, most spam wasn't pornographic or full of intentionally mi$spelled words. My thin trickle of spam and the relative cleanliness of the messages made it almost, dare I say, tolerable.

Soon, to my surprise and then chagrin, the spam went from a trickle to a flow. How uncool! Even so, I was able to divert it, deleting each message (after a good scowl to punish it with my eyes) until my Inbox was cleansed.

I changed my email address and magically, the spam disappeared... temporarily. When it found me at my new address, the flow of spam increased to a torrent. I set up an elaborate rule in my email program that would move spam to a special folder based on criteria I worked hours to perfect. This helped for a short while, but soon my rules were no match spam's new tricks.

The battle had me steamed and I vowed victory over spam. I downloaded and installed every email anti-spam tool I could get my mouse on. Each promised to purify my Inbox and keep it that way. Some worked better than others but they all made enough mistakes to concern me. Having to scroll through my quarantine folder looking for "false positives" took more time than just deleting the spam from my Inbox.

If I still have your attention at this point, then I'm guessing you've engaged spam in more than one battle and you're dying to know how I claimed victory. Well, hang on; I'm setting up for my finale.

Spam has become such a scourge that there are hundreds of companies trying to sell control of it to you. Some provide filtering software that works with your email program. They offer tools to block email lists of known spammers. Or they examine the text of a message and use fancy algorithms to remove it based on the "odds" that the text is spam.

As an IT consultant, I've tried every type of anti spam tool known to man and done so with every popular email program. By far, the most effective anti-spam method for me is the challenge/verification method. There is no software to install and no extra work for your computer to do because it is a service provided before email gets to your computer. With this method, email sent to you is intercepted and then checked against a "whitelist" of your approved senders whose messages arrive in your Inbox uninterrupted. All other messages are sent a reply, asking the sender to verify themselves by replying or typing a code into a box. With a response, they are added to your whitelist and their future messages are delivered to you uninterrupted. Since most spam carries a fake reply address, such spammers can't verify themselves, leaving their messages trapped. Think of it as hiring people to sort out your junk mail at the post office, preventing it from every reaching your mailbox.

Some web hosting companies include a challenge/verification tool called Boxtrapper with their service. If your hosting company doesn't offer it, there are commercial alternatives.

My personal favorite is called Spamarrest. (After a free trial they offer a $3.75/mo rate and setup is super easy) In two years Spamarrest has kept 40,000+ pieces of spam from my Inbox -returning hours of productivity to my email work. It allows me to protect multiple email addresses, customize my challenge message, and I can review trapped, non-verified messages at any time -although I've learned it's rarely necessary.

Now I get a daily fire hose -no, make that a waterfall of spam -but I don't have to deal with it. I have "people" handling that for me. How cool!

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